Psilocybin mushrooms, also known as magic mushrooms or “shrooms,” are mushrooms that contain a naturally occurring psychoactive and hallucinogenic compound called psilocybin.
Magic mushrooms can cause altered or unusual perceptions of the user's reality, causing users to see, hear, and feel sensations that seem real but are not. Magic mushrooms have long been associated with spiritual experiences and self-discovery; however, a “bad trip” can cause the user to experience anxiety, paranoia, frightening hallucinations, and psychosis.
When psilocybin enters the body, it becomes psilocin.
Psilocin binds with serotonin receptors in the brain, specifically the 5-HT2C receptor regulating neurotransmitter chemicals that control feelings of appetite, cognition, anxiety, imagination, mood, and perception. Psilocin has a half-life of 1-3 hours.
Psilocybin, like marijuana(/state-rankings/marijuana-laws-by-state), is still classified as a Schedule I drug. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for misuse and have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States. In 2018, however, Johns Hopkins University researchers suggested reclassifying magic mushrooms as a Schedule IV drug for medical use. The researchers suggested that they could help treat depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders.
Magic mushrooms are currently legal in Brazil, Bulgaria, Jamaica, the Netherlands, and Samoa. Many other countries have decriminalized the possession and cultivation of mushrooms, and some countries considered mushrooms only in dried form to be illegal.
In the United States, only states like Oregon and Maine have decriminalized magic mushrooms in November of 2020 and March of 2021, respectively. California has had a bill pass through the Senate, but it has gone no farther.
Despite the illegality, cities across the U.S. have started to decriminalize the substance within their municipalities. In 2019, the first to make the change was Denver, Colorado, with Oakland, California, following soon after.
Noel Gallo, Oakland City Councilmember, stated that magic mushrooms have long been used “for providing healing, knowledge, creativity, and spiritual connection.”
In January of 2020, the city council of Santa Cruz, California, had a unanimous vote to decriminalize possession of psilocybin and cultivation, but any commercial sale of it is illegal. Within Massachusetts, cities like Cambridge, Northampton, and Somerville have all decriminalized possession as well.
At the end of 2020, Ann Arbor, Michigan, made the investigation or arrest of anyone in possession of entheogenic plants or substances the absolute lowest law enforcement priority. Many cities followed suit, including Arcata, CA, Detroit, MI, Seattle, WA, and Port Townsend, WA. Michigan’s Washtenaw County also discontinued prosecution of such cases.
The District of Columbia has also decriminalized psilocybin drugs while making arrests for possession the lowest priority for law enforcement.
Some states have held off on making any legal changes while opening up the ability for certain government-selected groups to begin research on psilocybin and its effects. For example, Connecticut has put together a specially assigned task force for that reason, and Texas has authorized a study relating to “the use of alternative therapies for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.”
As more research continues on magic mushrooms' medical and therapeutic benefits, the United States could see a gradual change in their legality.